Header image courtesy of K.C. Hung (via Shutterstock)
The last thing a visitor to Hong Kong might expect from a thriving metropolitan city like ours is an abundance of wildlife, but anyone who has gone on a dusk-time run along Bowen Road will no doubt have come across our wild boars, snuffling around without a fear in the world.
(In)famous for being an endearing sight on hikes or causing consternation for wandering into the MTR, you’ll find public opinion divided on whether these are peaceful creatures that deserve to be protected, or fearsome beasts that will maul a passerby just for looking at their piglets funny. Either way, wild boars have increasingly been crossing the line into urban life in recent years. Here’s a look at the history of Hong Kong’s wild boars, and some interesting incidents they have sparked off over the years.
The scientific name for wild boars is sus scrofa, otherwise known as the common or Eurasian wild pig. One of the most widely distributed mammals in the world, wild boars are also Hong Kong’s largest land mammal, reaching up to two metres in body length and weighing between 150 to 600 pounds.
It is not unusual to see wild boar families out and about scrounging for food—a sow with three or four piglets trailing behind her is a fairly common sight. Adult boars may look kind of boring with their coarse dark fur, but juveniles up to 10 months old—known as squeakers in hunting terminology—sport light brown or cream-coloured stripes, rather like a chipmunk.
Studies in mitochondrial DNA have actually pointed to wild boars having originated from Southeast Asian islands such as Indonesia and the Philippines, where they then spread through the Old World, into mainland Eurasia and North Africa. Evolution has since ensured various subspecies of the sus scrofa, and the ones we have in Hong Kong are likely the Northern Chinese boar (S. s. moupinensis), a regional variety found along coastal China all the way down to Vietnam, and also inland in Sichuan.
The wild boar is nowhere near endangered, and its impressive adaptability to different habitats has meant that it is actually considered an invasive species in some areas where the wild boar has been introduced. In most of the world, the common grey wolf is the boar’s main natural predator, with the Eastern counterpart being the tiger and the komodo dragon.
Needless to say, such predators have long since been gone in Hong Kong. Our borders used to be home to apex predators such as tigers, leopards, and Asiatic wild dogs, but with the shooting of Hong Kong’s last confirmed tiger in the 1940s, the wild boar was essentially upgraded to the top of our wild mammal food chain and its numbers have since proliferated exponentially.
Nowadays, the only animal that could tackle a wild boar is the python—and there have been sightings of pythons swallowing boars in Sai Kung—but the suid mostly trots around Hong Kong unchallenged.
Wild boars are naturally shy and nocturnal creatures, but with real estate developments increasingly encroaching on Hong Kong’s nature and the human propensity to feed and fawn upon furry animals, our boars have become bolder about venturing into urban spaces. This often results in sometimes alarming interactions between man and pig. See below for some wild boar-related sightings.
Of course, the average city dweller who spots a wild piggie or two on their hike may simply find the encounter charming, but the fact remains that boars have also been considered a nuisance for some Hongkongers. These animals are voracious omnivores and have been known to push over and rip apart bins in search of food on a nightly basis—a literal nightmare for urban cleaning efforts.
They can be territorial and also aggressive to people who try to approach, particularly if they are sows with juveniles nearby. We don’t even want to think about how many crusty little dogs have been reduced to gibbering in fear after barking at a wild boar when on their daily walks.
The AFCD has a team dedicated to monitoring and controlling wild boar-related issues, and since the 1970s, one of the government’s solutions to population control was to allow civilian volunteers the license to shoot and kill wild boars. With the rise of animal rights issues, this programme was finally halted in 2017, and the AFCD now mainly relies on capturing, sterilising, and releasing boars with a GPS tracking device when they receive complaint calls—effective, but time-consuming and costly.
It would be a far better solution for the public to simply stop feeding wild boars, which is still a common problem despite the government putting fines in place. In the long-term, this will help discourage the animals from venturing into city spaces too often or outright begging for food from people—remember that these are wild animals that belong out in nature and are perfectly capable of surviving on their own without relying on humans, anyway!
In 2019, the Hong Kong Wild Boar Concern Group suggested to the government that efforts be made to set aside areas designated for the wild boars. Following a model successfully set up in European countries, food can be grown in those zones so that the animals can have a sustainable supply of food in their natural habitat instead of coming out into the city. It is an interesting concept, though whether our government takes the suggestion remains to be seen.